Those of us in education throw around the phrase “21st Century Learning,” and while the phrase resonates with parents and others who want their children to be prepared for their future (or “College and Career Readiness” as the Common Core State Standards phrase it), they have little understanding of what that means. You can give a lengthy explanation of what you are doing to ensure students are getting 21st Century skills, but your listeners’ eyes will glaze over long before you are done.
We seem to fluctuate between telling non-educators too much or incorporating too many terms such as “information literacy” and “deeper reading” which border on jargon (if it sounds like it needs quotes around it – it’s probably jargon), making us sound knowledgeable but imparting little information or worse, making our community feel ignorant. When I explain what 21st century skills are, I say they can be reduced to three words: Connect, Collaborate, and Create, all of which must be present in a 21st century lesson.
“Collaborate” is obvious. Students need to work with each other. We are in a participatory culture and working alone (or writing a paper for one reader) is not how the world now operates. “Create” is a reminder that students are not supposed to be reproducing what is already known. Innovation and growth—which is vital to the future of our country—does not come from repeating what has been done before. We expect students to turn the information they have gathered into something new. School Library leaders and professors refer to the importance of making meaning and content creation. It’s a big challenge.
“Connect” is an aspect that can be the most exciting. On the simplest level, it refers to students connecting with multi-type resources across a range of platforms, known as “transliteracy.” But on a larger scale, “Connect” has them reaching out beyond the walls of the library and school and, at its best, extending across borders.
In the upcoming August/ September 2014 issue of School Librarian’s Workshop, Shannon McClintock Miller reports on a project with her 3rd grade students that started with their own interest in Rainbow Loom bracelets. Using a variety of online resources they shared their project, connecting with children in an orphanage in Mangalore, India. Her young students have learned what it is to be a member of the global community. That’s 21st century learning!
Look for ways to have your students reach out and connect with the world. Libraries are so much larger than their walls. How are you explaining and showing this to your community? Do you need support?